English daisies are charming winter and spring bloomers

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Image by Kerstin Riemer from PixabayImage by Kerstin Riemer from PixabayEnglish daisies remain extremely popular garden plants, not only for their charm but also because they are so unfussy and easy to grow. Throughout winter and spring they never fail to delight with their masses of tightly quilled, single, or double flowers, which stand above the fresh, bright-green leaves. Read more about growing them below.

The blooms come in shades of pink, white and rosy red, with cheerful yellow centres, and will bloom continuously for weeks on end. English daisies are neat, compact plants, growing about 15 to 20cm tall, making them superb edging plants for pathways and flower borders, and also for pots. Like other daisies, it exhibits the phenomenon of heliotropism, where the flowers follow the position of the sun in the sky.

The English daisy is a common native of western, central and northern Europe, including remote islands such as Faroe Island. It grows in abundance in meadows where it flowers for much of the year, and is also called the "lawn daisy" as it habitually colonises lawns, and is difficult to eradicate by mowing. English daisies are truly so pretty - even the Genus name “bellis” comes from the Latin word “bellus”, meaning pretty; and the garden hybrids we know and love today were developed from this robust and hardy plant. In most temperate regions, including the Americas and Australasia, it has escaped garden cultivation and has become naturalised.

Health benefits:

The medicinal properties of the daisy were recorded as far back as the 16th century, when an English botanist, John Gerard, who had a large herbal garden in London, documented the medicinal properties of daisies in his book “Gerard's Herbal”. Today daisies remain a popular home remedy with a wide range of applications. The herb is mildly anodyne, antispasmodic, antitussive, demulcent, digestive, emollient, expectorant, laxative, ophthalmic, purgative and tonic.

Traditionally daisies are well-known as a “fresh wound herb”, and the flowers and leaves can be used fresh in decoctions, ointments and poultices for treating wounds, bruises, and also boils. Today the plant is harvested when in flower and is used as a homeopathic remedy which is especially indicated for the treatment of bruising.

The fresh or dried flowering heads are used to make an infusion to use as a blood purifier, or to ease complaints of the respiratory tract, including coughs, as well as for the treatment of catarrh, rheumatism, arthritis, liver and kidney disorders. Chewing the fresh leaves is said to be a cure for mouth ulcers.

Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Image by Goran Horvat from PixabayImage by Goran Horvat from PixabayUses:

The leaves flowers and buds of this daisy may be used as a potherb. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, although their flavour has been described as somewhat acrid by some people, and pleasantly sour according to others. Flower buds and petals can be eaten raw in sandwiches, soups and salads. Even though the leaves and flowers are edible the plant is mostly used as a medicinal herb

In the Garden:

English daisies are excellent anywhere in the garden, growing easily in pots and window boxes, and adding some magic to woodland or pebble gardens. They are great bedding plants and striking when planted in flower borders or alongside pathways. They are perfect companions for pansies and violas, or to interplant with winter and spring flowering bulbs, and in large gardens and parks they are often planted in mass together with Dutch Iris, tulips or daffodils. An added bonus is that English daisies will attract butterflies to the garden, providing vital nectar when food is scarce.

Image by Hus16 from PixabayImage by Hus16 from PixabayCultivation/Propagation:

In their native habitats English daisies thrive in cool, moist climates, where they are perennial plants which bloom in summer, or even sporadically throughout the year. However, in hot and sunny South Africa they are grown throughout the country as winter and spring flowering annuals. Because they love moisture, these daisies thrive in the winter rainfall regions, and because they do not do well in high heat and humidity, in subtropical regions they are grown during the coolest months. In the cooler mist belt regions of the country blooming will continue into summer.

English daisies are easy to grow, and will adapt to most garden soil types, even heavy clay soils, as long as they are well-drained, growing in acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. For best results, provide a moist, fertile and well-drained soil by preparing the beds well by digging them over and adding organic material like compost, and a dressing of bone meal.

In pots they can be planted together with other compatible bulbs and annuals in good potting soil. All plants growing in pots will require more frequent watering and feeding than those growing in garden beds and many gardeners prefer to use liquid fertilisers to avoid over fertilising or burning their plants.  

In moist soils they love to grow in full sun, but they will take some shade, and in dry winter regions where the days can still get quite hot, some shade will keep them blooming for longer.  Although English daisies love moist soils they have average water needs, so water regularly, but do not overwater.

English daisies are available in seedling trays from garden centres, which is often most convenient and quick for smaller gardens, but they also grow easily from seed sown directly into well prepared beds, or seedling trays, when the soil temperatures are between 15 to 25°C. Cover the seeds lightly (2mm) and if you are sowing into trays, keep them in a cool, bright place until germination takes place. Germination times can vary according to conditions, taking anything from 3 to 20 days. Once the seedlings have their first true leaves they can be thinned out to space them 15 to 20cm apart. Flowering should start about 90 to 100 days after sowing.

To keep them blooming, it is most important to cut out the dead flower heads regularly. If the soil was prepared well, additional feeding may not be necessary, but if you have planted them in garden beds between bulbs or other annuals, English daisies can be fed along with your other winter and spring flowering plants.

If left to self-seed in the garden, the double forms will quickly revert back to ordinary single forms.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Generally daisies have no known serious insect or disease problems but may have some problems with root-knot nematodes (galls) and rust.

Warning:

Daisies can cause contact dermatitis in people who are allergic, but generally pose little to no toxicity risk to humans though it is always advisable to supervise babies and small children in the garden.

Some daisies, such as the gerber or Barberton daisy, are not toxic at all while many others contain several toxins that are all dangerous to your pet. The common or English daisy (Bellis perennis) and the poison daisy (Anthemis cotula) are two varieties that are poisonous to dogs, cats and horses. The symptoms of daisy poisoning in animals include contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhoea, anorexia, allergic reactions, and prolonged bleeding. If a pet ingests daisies, it is important to call a veterinarian immediately.

These most common daisies contain several poisonous substances including pyrethroids, which are used to make insecticides like flea medication. This can lead to serious problems in your dog if it consumes a large amount of daisies after recently being treated for fleas with medication or shampoo that contains pyrethrins or pyrethroids. Your dog can normally metabolize a small amount of these chemicals which are in the flea treatment, but paired with the natural chemicals in the daisy it can lead to a serious toxic reaction.

Sesquiterpene is another substance found in many daisies that can cause intestinal upset and skin irritation.